The 99-Seat Beat: Martin McDonagh, Viola Davis and Alfred Molina projects hit L.A. theaters
“Do the right thing” is more easily said than put into practice, especially when there’s no moral compass to guide our choices. Quandaries that resist tidy solutions figure in this week’s prospects from our small-theater scene: “Last Call” from Open Fist in Atwater Village, “The Cripple of Inishmaan” at Antaeus, “Paradise” at Odyssey and “A Walk in the Woods” at L.A. Theatre Works. All are drawn from or inspired by real-life events with global, provincial, parental and domestic repercussions.
‘Cripple of Inishmaan’ at Antaeus
The essentials: Antaeus Theatre Company revives Martin McDonagh’s early black comedy about a desolate, claustrophobically insular island community in Galway Bay, where the inhabitants’ only relief from the harsh conditions and unending boredom lies in their genius for elevating mean-spirited taunts and put-downs to heights of Irish poetic eloquence. Set in 1934, the play is a fictionalized historical portrait based on the arrival of a Hollywood movie crew filming Robert Flaherty’s famed “Man of Aran” — itself a fictionalized documentary about the hardships of survival in that barren region.
Why this? Though it lacks the shocking physical violence that often accompanies the mordant satire in McDonagh’s later plays and hit films (“In Bruges,” “Seven Psychopaths” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), this early work still sports his garrulous misfits’ outrageously funny psychological brutality and twisted morality. Yet even its cruelest characters find their way to surprising moments of empathy and generosity. Director Steven Robman follows the Antaeus tradition of double-casting productions from the company’s stable of first-rate classical actors; the alternating lineups are listed on the website in case you have particular favorites, but both seem safe bets.
Details: An Antaeus production at the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center, 110 E. Broadway, Glendale. 8 p.m. Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; ends March 11. $35. (818) 506-1983, antaeus.org
‘Paradise’ at Odyssey
The essentials: Reduced to teaching high school in an impoverished South Bronx district, a disgraced scientist (stage veteran Jeff Marlow) finds an unexpected opportunity for personal and career redemption in mentoring a brilliant Yemeni American student (Medalion Rahimi, from ABC’s “Still Star-Crossed”). When opposition from the girl’s tradition-minded immigrant family threatens their potentially groundbreaking research project, the resulting clash of science, religion and culture proves a test of character for both.
Why this? Funny and moving by turns, Laura Maria Censabella’s script steers clear of familiar clichés (there’s no tawdry student-teacher romance, for example) and charts an unexpected but convincing resolution for its vividly drawn protagonists. Viola Davis and husband Julius Tennon developed the play through their JuVee Productions, which fosters independent, socially relevant new works in theater, film, television and other media.
Details: A JuVee Productions and American Oasis co-production at Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, ends Feb. 17. $35. (323) 960-7724, plays411.com
‘A Walk in the Woods’ at L.A. Theatre Works
The essentials: Alfred Molina and Steven Weber star in a limited-run, radio-theater-style live performance of Lee Blessing’s Cold War-era drama. Inspired by a 1983 incident in which two lower-level arms negotiators from opposing sides broke diplomatic protocol and went for … (Spoiler alert: Try to forget the title.) During their rustic excursion, the naive, uptight American policy wonk and the gregarious Soviet pragmatist develop a friendship and a possible strategy to break through their nations’ political impasse. If only life were that simple.
Why this? If they didn’t have you at Molina and Weber, consider the opportunity to observe firsthand L.A. Theatre Works’ signature proficiency in capturing great theater for audio broadcast, streaming and CD. The play’s sharp, insightful dialogue and intimate tone are ideally suited to the format, and director Cameron Watson has helmed productions at many of L.A.’s finest theaters.
Details: An L.A. Theatre Works production at James Bridges Theater, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, 235 Charles E. Young Drive, Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday; ends Sunday. $15-$65. (310) 827-0889, latw.org
‘Last Call’ at Open Fist
The essentials: The physical and mental decline of aging parents affords no good options for a fractured middle-class household in TV producer-writer Anne Kenney’s semi-autobiographical new dramedy. As the elders’ independent life becomes increasingly untenable, so does the snappy, sarcastic banter their family members have always used to keep authentic feelings at bay. Hard-won honesty and recognition of their own shortcomings require all concerned to relinquish their glib assumptions about what makes life worth living.
Why this? Over her long TV career, Kenney has penned episodes for series as varied as “L.A. Law” and “Outlander,” and she knows a thing or two about heightened emotional conflict and life-or-death drama. Drawing from personal history makes for a particularly intimate story that’s well-suited to Open Fist Theatre Company’s focus on hard-hitting topical themes.
Details: An Open Fist production at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays (except 7:30 p.m. Feb. 17), ends Feb. 23. $25-$55. (323) 882-6912, openfist.org
The 99-Seat Beat appears every Friday. Our reviewers shortlist offerings with an emphasis on smaller venues. Some recommendations are shows we’ve seen; others are based on the track record of the company, playwright, director or cast.
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